How Dick & Willie can teach Richmond a lesson


My family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberI was quoted in lede of a recent Martinsville Bulletin article on the new Dick & Willie Passage in Martinsville. It is a rails-to-trail project and a wonderful example of what could happen for Richmond.

Phil Riggan of Richmond described the Martinsville area’s newest walking and biking trail in one word.

“Perfect,” he said while he and family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage. They were here recently visiting his aunt.

Riggan said efforts are under way to create similar trails in the Richmond area. Now that he has seen what he considers a perfect trail, he said he is “going to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it.”

It was a complete coincidence that we ran into the writer, Mickey Powell, because right before that moment I had been pondering the 2.5-mile stretch of a former CSX railroad bed that runs between Belt Boulevard and Hopkins Road in South Richmond. I wrote a story in April on a clean up that took place in the area next to Southside Plaza at Hull Street. That project would be the beginning of a greenway path toward the James River that could connect through proposed trails in Crooked Branch Park to Forest Hill Park. 

I meant what I said, that I needed to go back to Richmond and tell them how to do it. After that walk on the Dick & Willie, I spoke four days later at a JROC meeting with the City of Richmond trails manager, Nathan Burrell, and one of the key trail-builders that works with him, Mike Burton.  They were happy to hear that I had a great time in Martinsville, but didn’t seem encouraged that the Richmond project was moving along very quickly.

In April, I wrote that the plans for that 2.5 mile ”ecological corridor” are for a future public bike and pedestrian trail that will serve as a scenic recreational greenway area, providing neighborhoods a safe alternative way to connect without automobiles and away from busy streets.

My son running on the Dick & Willie Passage in NovemberThat’s what Martinsville has because that trail helps people avoid the “busy” streets of Martinsville in areas that don’t have sidewalks or safe places to travel without a vehicle. It also provides another safe place for kids to play and ride in safety. According to an editorial that ran October 17, around the time the trail opened: 

The $1.4 million trail was developed entirely with grants from the federal government, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tobacco Commission. The Henry County and Martinsville governments and county Public Service Authority contributed in-kind services.

The “Dick and Willie” railroad was created in the late 1800s by residents who wanted a modern way to connect the towns of Martinsville, Danville and Stuart. Today, the railroad is long gone, but the Dick & Willie Trail has been created in its place.

That is what rails-to-trails is all about, taking old unused railroad beds and making a new use for them. Greenways! On www.TrailLink.com, the entry for the Dick & Willie Passage is robust. There is a page for Virginia trails, and among the listings, there is only one in the Richmond area: the 1-mile Chester Linear Park. Either that proves that Richmond is still a vibrant town that is using all of its railroads, or we need to get off our rear ends and help transform our unused railroad beds.

My family is from Martinsville and I travel there several times a year.  The area has the worst unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. They needed a shot in the arm like the Dick & Willie Passage, and it is nice. I saw two things that I took away in thinking about Richmond’s greenway:

  1. There were a handful of commuter bikers that Saturday afternoon — men wearing work overalls or uniforms. Very promising, especially considering that the project in Richmond is targeted for a blue-collar area that has few sidewalks, little park space and poor planning for non-vehicular traffic.
  2. The trails were clean and the sight-lines were open and inviting. When I was covering the cleanup in April 2010, there was so much trash and overgrowth that the volunteers barely got more than 30 feet into the trail.

Mayor Dwight Jones has stated that “Richmond loves pedestrians” and we even have a slogan “Live Here, Bike Here.” I’m ready to help rethink our streets, and I’m ready for Richmond’s Bike, Pedestrian and Trails commission to move forward and create our greenways and bike paths.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marsha Frith on January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the great plug for Martinsville’s Dick & Willie Trail!

    Reply

  2. Is there any progress at all on the southside project? If not what are the current hurdles? I’m assuming the purchasing of the land is the #1 issue. I attended one of the very first public meetings and it sounded great but haven’t heard anything more other than the clean up you mentioned. If eventually that project could hook up with Forest Hill Park perhaps through Reedy Creek that would be awesome.

    Reply

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